A woman asks why it’s so hard for her to keep friends.
Dear Friendship Doctor,
Hi there! So I have a question about not really having any friends. I am 27 years old and have struggled with this for probably about 10 years. I am also happily married, and I’ve asked my husband more than once if he thinks that it’s due to severe character flaws or personality traits that make people uncomfortable and he doesn’t think so. However, I just don’t seem to be able to keep any friends, so it seems like there must be something. It always feels like the people who I think are my friends are way more important to me than I am to them.
I do tend to have some social anxiety at times and I worry about how I come across a lot, partially due to years of embarrassing experiences. However, I am also a music teacher and have been teaching private lessons for 12 years and I’ve had a lot of experience with being friendly, engaging, and thoughtful. I would like to believe that means my social skills are decent, but I just don’t know what to think anymore.
None of the girlfriends I’ve had over the past few years contact me, and I don’t contact them anymore because I’m just so tired of the years of me being the one to do the contacting and I know very well they all have other friends that they hang out with and apparently care more about. Before I got married, and even sometimes now, it seems like I can’t have any platonic guy friends (or even casually happen to look at a guy simply because I’m in a room crowded with people) because they think I like them. Granted, this is an assumption mostly from what I can tell from body language and that I was not treated the same way other platonic girl friends were.
At this point though, I’ve given up trying to have any friends except for my husband, who is my best friend, of course! But between my work and my husband and my immediate family members who live in the same town as me and are kind of needy (my family was very dysfunctional when I was growing up, by the way, so don’t take that to mean I don’t care about them. It’s just stressful trying to have boundaries and be there for them at the same time), I don’t really feel like I have time anyway. I still feel sad though because I’m just tired of feeling like there’s something wrong with me and I don’t know why or what I did. And as an aside, my husband and my family would all say that I’m a very caring and giving person, and in thinking back, the people who I’ve thought were my friends have said that at some point as well.
So, I guess I don’t really know why I’m writing this. It seems that something about my personality if off-putting to most people and I can’t keep friends, but I can’t tell what it is. I know in reading this letter you probably won’t be able to tell either, but if there are any thoughts you do have about what I could do differently, I would appreciate it very much.
So many aspects of your life seem to be fulfilling: You have a good marriage; a job you enjoy doing and at which you are successful; and have reached acceptance and established realistic boundaries about having an imperfect family.
Your friendship problems seem to be long-standing and it’s hard to guess why you haven’t been able to keep friends. Sometimes, when people are very shy and anxious, others interpret their behavior and mannerisms as being standoffish and disinterested. But it sounds like you have good insight and go out of your way to act friendly and engaging.
Your comment about guys looking at you romantically rather than platonically is one thing that stands out in your letter. Could it be that you dress or act provocatively? This might be something that would make men attentive in a way that’s uncomfortable for you and also turn off other women.
Despite your disappointments, I hope you won’t give up on trying to make new friends (which doesn’t appear to be a problem for you) and maintaining relationships once they’re made (which seems to be what’s vexing you). While you are fortunate to have a husband who is also a friend, husbands aren’t a substitute for female companionship.
Given your situation, one possibility would be to make an effort to reconnect with one or more friends who have disappeared. Suggest meeting for coffee and find out what one of your old friends has been up to. I realize that this may be out of your comfort zone because you feel as if they have rejected you. But a friend’s disappearance may have nothing to do with you, per se. It may have been that she’s been busy, has many more friends than you do, or isn’t an “initiator.”
At the end of your get-together, express interest in getting together again. If the other person doesn’t pick up on it, contact her after a few weeks have passed. Repeat the same process with someone else. If you feel comfortable doing so, you might even share your problem with one of these individuals and ask whether you’ve done anything that has annoyed them.
It also might be worthwhile to speak to a counselor or mental health professional, someone who could give you some honest feedback about your personality knowing you in-vivo.
Hope this helps.
Previously on The Friendship Blog:
- A late-life mom has trouble making friends
- Can’t make friends at work or church
- More than shy: Could it be social anxiety?